P. Alex Comeau
Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
At St. Lawrence I have learned to rock climb with the Outing Program and the Outing Club, and with a CIIS grant I was able to pursue this avocation further in Thailand. A little background: Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, located in the land-locked north. I was a student there in the spring of 2010 and it was from there that I planned my trip while rock climbing at a local gym and crag.
Through the semester I climbed at Crazy Horse Mountain, the local outdoor cliff, about 50 kilometers from Chiang Mai. The area is inhabited by Buddhist monks, and with their assent the climbing community (fostered largely by foreigners) has been able to develop the area. Due to the fragile rock, all of the climbing in Thailand is "sport," where bolts are screwed and glued to the rock. As the climber ascends, they drag the rope behind them, and clip into these bolts to protect against falling. To stay in shape, I climbed at the mountain and at the gym. In any case, as the semester continued, and with the help of several friends, I planned a trip to the South of Thailand.
Thailand is famous for its beach and ocean climbing. Over thousands of years, weather from the Indian Ocean has carved out the limestone pillars and cliffs that make this region renowned. The climbing is all rated from world class to moderate. After traveling for two days (known as Railay, in Ton Sai Provence) involving a plane, several boats, vans, and a lot of walking, I was set up to climb.
I met with a local guide, Jeremy, and the two of us climbed for five days together. An average day of climbing in Thailand starts early, around 7am, until lunch. The temperature peaked around 105 degrees Celsius, so most of the afternoon was spent napping and relaxing until it cooled off and you could climb again. I remember pouring sweat so that my shoes were dripping, and the ground beneath the climb looked like it had rained. Needless to say, I was glad for the chalk we used to keep our hands dry. I climbed a range of routes rated around 5.6 to 5.10, which is moderate; every day I met new climbers and travelers. When my time was done, I left with every intention to return!
It's difficult to summarize such an amazing experience in so few words, and I can't thank the donors and St. Lawrence University CIIS enough for giving me this opportunity. Thailand was a huge experience that improved both my technical and physical climbing abilities. Jeremy was an amazing guide, and he taught me a lot about climbing limestone and in hot weather conditions. But most of all, I think the people of Thailand made the trip fantastic. The population of Thailand is incredibly welcoming. Without the help of many Thai friends and strangers, I never could have had such an incredible time. From Essex, New York to Ton Sai Thailand, thank you SLU.